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KwaSizabantu leaders expected to appear before CRL Rights Commission

  • KwaSizabantu Mission leaders are expected to appear before the CRL Rights Commission on Wednesday to respond to allegations of abuse levelled against them.
  • This is despite a scathing lawyer’s letter sent to the commission by the mission, slamming their investigation as “fatally flawed”.
  • This comes after day two of the commission’s probe into allegations of abuse at the mission, including accounts of rape, virginity testing, censorship and secrecy.

Leaders of the KwaSizabantu Mission are expected to testify and respond to allegations of abuse levelled against them at the CRL Rights Commission’s investigation on Wednesday.

READ | KwaSizabantu: CRL Rights Commission to commence hearings into human rights abuse allegations

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) launched a three-day probe into these allegations in Durban following an extensive exposé in News24, detailing claims of sexual assault, physical and psychological abuse as well as financial crimes.

The commission said they were expecting the leader of KwaSizabantu to make an appearance on Wednesday, despite a scathing lawyer’s letter sent to the commission, slamming their investigation as “fatally flawed”.

Commission chairperson Professor David Mosoma told News24 they had responded to the mission’s concerns.

“If they have a contestation, let them contest our report but they can’t make a pre-judgement,” Mosoma said.

He was speaking following a full day of testimony from former members of KwaSizabantu Mission, including Manfred Stegen, brother of the mission’s leader, Erlo Stegen.

Virginity testing

Day two kicked off with an account from a woman who had been at the mission as a child.

Testifying at the commission, Thandi* described how she was made to undergo virginity testing when she was five.

She described how, at that young age, she did not understand what menstruation was, but upon seeing tissues stained with blood during the testing, she was scarred for life.

After Thandi was forced to undergo virginity testing, she was accused of being “impure”, with adults interrogating her as to who had “touched” her.

“I didn’t know what they were talking about, and then they said, ‘Did you sleep with a boy?’ and I didn’t understand. I told them yes, I sleep with my father sometimes and my mother… then they said, ‘No, but who touched you?'”

After this conversation, Thandi was sent to another room where she was kept and isolated until dark. She did not eat or sleep.

A young Grade R pupil knocked on the window and told Thandi to “just say any boy’s name”.

“I didn’t understand what was happening, so I just gave them a boy’s name. I gave them my cousin’s name because he was the only boy I was exposed to.

“After that they kept asking me questions of things I did not even understand, I could not even comprehend – I was a child,” Thandi said.

She was sent to counselling and underwent a virginity test once, after which, surprisingly, she was deemed to be a virgin once again.

ALSO READ | ‘They have mind control over people’: Inquiry hears why ex-member calls KwaSizabantu a ‘cult’

Thandi explained that this incident confused her as a child, but even as an adult she still cannot make sense of what happened.

Thandi also recounted an incident when she was accused of having “TV demons”, seemingly because her family owned a TV.

She was made to confess everything she watched on TV and “bury her demons”.

Her parents were later interrogated about their TV and were ordered to burn it.

She later explained that many forms of media were banned at the mission, except for the mission’s radio station – books were censored and access to outside media was limited.

Thandi recalled how she was suspended for wanting to read Long Walk to Freedom.

She also described a crippling incident she and other young girls had experienced at just four years old when a “faceless man” would creep into their dormitories. “Most of us were raped at that time as children”, Thandi said, weeping.

A mission of secrecy

Also testifying to the commission on Tuesday was Manfred Stegen, brother of the mission’s leader, Erlo Stegen.

While the younger Stegen left the mission as an adult, he recalled, “over the years, I can say, from the beginning, there was something that disturbed me, and that was secrecy”.

“Things happened, and the congregation and we never knew why,” Manfred Stegen said.

He recounted an incident in which a member of the mission, originally from Zimbabwe, was told to leave after seemingly criticising the mission.

He objected to being expelled, saying his wife and children were at the mission.

“Within a week, he committed suicide – hanged himself in a tree – nobody knew why.”

“I’m old enough to say it was one of the strong points of Hitler – secrecy. Nobody knew what was going on in the country,” Stegen said.

He explained that his eldest brother, Friedel Stegen, was also kicked out of the mission after being accused of wanting to take over KwaSizabantu from Erlo Stegen.

He called this an atrocity, saying his brother was 92 years old and in a wheelchair. “He couldn’t even turn himself over in a bed,” he said.

Stegen also spoke of how his own children were severely beaten at the mission for arbitrary reasons, and how the confession of sins was used against the mission’s members.

He added that he had brought the issue of rape at the mission to his brother’s attention only to be told, “Oh, these girls”.

“He became one of those guys who always blame women,” Stegen said.

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